Pride of Kashmir mountains and home to adventure lovers, Gulmarg is a place where a happy three some of romance, beauty and snow dwell together. Afarwat situated at 12600 feet above sea, highest skiing point connected through Gandola Cable Car (GCC), highest green golf course in the world at an altitude of 9000 feet and introduction of Heli skiing has added to the attraction of this mesmerising world famous ski resort, which is an all-season destination.
But the arrival of winter transforms Gulmarg, about 50 km from the state’s summer capital of Srinagar in the North Kashmir valley into a mini Switzerland, which is accessible to all. Till a decade ago, the meadow was an exclusive preserve of lucky few.
Today Gulmarg is a star attraction for skiers, heli skiers, golfers and other adventure lovers besides common tourists from all over the country and around the world. Its lavish natural beauty, accompanied by manmade comforts, make it premier destination in the country.
It is said that it was an English hotel owner who discovered the meadow of flowers in 1870 which was later developed by King Yusuf Shah Chak for Kashmir’s melody queen his beloved wife Habba Khaitoon.
According to Jammu and Kashmir tourism department, Gulamrg offers all facilities an adventure loving sports person needs, that too on affordable rates than anywhere else in the world. This is one of the reasons why Gulmarg, accessible by road and helicopter, receives a large number of foreign skiers , as according to reports queues for ski lifts in Europe grow longer and skiing holiday prices higher.
However, despite available facilities many adventure lovers in the country and abroad are still not aware of winter delights that Gulmarg offers from December to ending March every year.
With a snowfall the normally green slopes of Gulmarg turn into a snow action packed arena. The tourism department has imported ski equipments including sophisticated skiies, safety binding ski boots, goggles and gloves costing several lakhs of Rupees for the ski lovers in late 80s.
Skiing which was included in the National games only in 1986 actually started as a sport in the country as early as 1927 when the skii club was established in the lush green valley of Gulamarg. The club also had the honour to hold the first ever National skii competition in 1986 on its slopes which vary between 8700 feet to 10500 feet, rated the highest and among the finest in the world.
Its ski runs stretches from 2 km to 10 km. Gulmarg has also produced many top skiers who represented the country in the first Asian winter games in Japan, winter Olympic and other International competitions.
Gulmarg was well provided with chair and ski lifts, rope tows and T-bars propel skiers to the top of the slopes from where they came sizzling down. To promote winter tourism, when all other trades came to a halt due to snowfall, the government constructed GCC from base to Kongdori which was later extended to Affarwat, the highest skiing point from where skiers come down sizzling.
This project, now operational, helps skiers to explore certain mountains which are of international standard and suitable for grand slam and holding of international sports competitions.
By sun rise every morning, skiers and other seekers of excitement are out on the slopes of Gulmarg till about 5 PM, when the temperature drops drastically. But people addicted to extreme sports and who want to take it to the next level, do not care able the sub-zero temperature or darkness, skiing at night has become popular during the last few years. It is an amasing sight when they come down from the top with “Mashals” in their hands.
Majority European skiers who have visited Gulmarg describe it as a combination of beauty, sports, pleasure, comforts, and a promise of new friendship along with an alluring new life on the snow.
Introduction of the new sports of heli skiing and snow scooter are added attraction for foreign and domestic skiers.
Heli skiing was introduced in Kashmir Himalayas including Gulmarg in January 1987 for the first time in collaboration with a Swiss ski mountaineer. It is a sport in which a helicopter drops the skier at the top of a mountain or ridge from where he or she starts down, it is suitable for the unexplored heights of the Himalayas including Gulmarg. Though hazardous it enables the skier to get benefit of miles of skiing of territory before a special helicopter picks him up once again for another exhilarating run.
This sport has received tremendous rush from some European countries. However, only few domestic tourists have so far participated in heli skiing because it involves a large money.
A snow scooter was gifted to the then chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah by a Japanese company in 1987 which helps a rider to run it on snow. But this has not attracted tourist so far.
Apart from central and state ski institutions some private clubs are conducting short certificate courses for sub-junior, junior and seniors at Gulmarg at nominal charges from December to March every year.
In summer months Gulmarg equally attracts large number of domestic and foreign tourists besides thousands of locals.